בSpecial publication: Behind the scenes at the Eichmann Trial

ב.1 | Introduction

In May 1960 Israeli agents succeeded in capturing Adolf Eichmann, who played a central role in the annihilation of the six million European Jews, in Argentina, and brought him to Israel to stand trial. On May 23 1960 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced in the Knesset that Eichmann had been captured, and immediately afterwards the police began his interrogation. The evidence collected was presented to the prosecution to draw up the indictment against him. At the same time, Israel’s diplomatic network prepared to cope with the reactions throughout the world to Eichmann’s abduction and the political issues involved.

Due to the importance of the trial, the government decided to appoint Gideon Hausner, the attorney-general, to head the prosecution team. The trial of Eichmann opened on April 11 1961 before a special panel of the District Court of Jerusalem, headed by Supreme Court Judge Moshe Landau. Seven months later Eichmann was convicted and on December 15 1961 the court sentenced Eichmann to death. Eichmann’s defence counsel, Dr. Robert Servatius, appealed the sentence. Deliberations on the appeal began in March 22 1962 and on May 29 1962 five Supreme Court judges rejected it. The request for clemency presented to the president, Itzhak Ben-Tzvi, was also denied, and on the night between May 31 and June 1 1962, Adolf Eichmann was executed.

These events are viewed by researchers as a turning point in the Israeli public’s attitude towards the Holocaust. For many months the Eichmann trial was the focus of attention throughout society, served as the main topic in all the newspapers and was widely reported in radio broadcasts. Professor Israel Gutman, one of the activists of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and a Holocaust scholar himself, who testified at the trial, later wrote that the Eichmann trial brought about a change in the narrow and one-dimensional attitude of the Israeli public to the Holocaust and its victims. For the first time, “it [the public] was exposed to the full suffering of the victims, their distress, helplessness and their efforts to survive and retain some human dignity”. Following the trial the attitude to the Holocaust altered: if, in the nineteen fifties, the victims were perceived, for the most part, as people who “were led like sheep to the slaughter”, and the Holocaust was a focus of disputes and polemics, which culminated in the trial involving Rudolph Kasztner in 1954, the Eichmann trial provided a catharsis, after which the destruction of European Jewry became a topic that united society.

This publication presents a selection of documents related to the Eichmann affair which were first published in 2011 on the 50th anniversary of the trial. Many of the documents and photographs also appeared in an exhibition held at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris in April-September 2011, entitled “Juger Eichmann, Jérusalem 1961”

The catalogue of the exhibition

ב.2 | The capture of Adolf Eichmann: Preparations for his detention and interrogation

At a government meeting on 23 May 1960, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced that the Israeli security forces had captured Adolf Eichmann. Ben-Gurion did not name the country in which he had been captured, and refused to do so even when asked directly. He emphasized that Eichmann had given his captors a letter declaring that he was ready to stand trial in Israel. During the meeting the ministers expressed their feelings and also discussed the necessity of appointing a defence attorney for the accused (Document No. 1).

An extension of the arrest warrant for Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, 9 March 1961. GPO

On Eichmann’s arrival in Israel the agents of the Mossad, the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, handed him over to the Israel Police. After being remanded by a magistrate, the police prepared for his long-term detention. In an internal document from 25 May 1960, Yosef Nahmias, the Inspector-General of the police, fixed the conditions of Eichmann’s detainment at the detention camp in Yagur, which was now renamed ‘Camp Iyyar’, emptied of all its inhabitants and prepared especially for this task. Nahmias also gave orders to prepare the facility for Eichmann’s interrogation and collect the documents required for his trial (Document No. 2).

Eichmann in the yard of his cell in Ramle prison, 1 April 1961. Photograph: John Milli, GPO

The police established a special unit, Bureau 06, to interrogate Eichmann and collect the evidence against him, for which they recruited their best investigators. In another document of the same day, Nahmias informed Commander Avraham Selinger of his appointment to head the team of interrogators, and detailed his duties and the subjects of investigation. He defined the boundaries of the interrogation, so that they would not impinge on the General Security Services (Document No. 3).


ב.3 | The effect of the Eichmann affair on Israeli-Argentina relations

It was Prime Minister Ben-Gurion who decided that moral and historical considerations outweighed all else and gave permission to Isser Harel, the head of the Mossad, to carry out Eichmann’s abduction in Argentina and bring him secretly to Israel, despite the diplomatic risk involved in violating the sovereignty of a friendly country. After the abduction was revealed, Argentina recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and even appealed to the UN Security Council and demanded it censure Israel and order it to return Eichmann to Argentinian territory. In an effort to alleviate the tension, the government sent a letter to the Argentinian government claiming that the authorities were not involved in Eichmann’s abduction and had not known that he had been brought to Israel from Argentina. It claimed that a group of Jewish volunteers, among them several Israelis, had been following Eichmann since the end of the Second World War, and they had brought him to Israel. Eichmann had given his agreement to stand trial in Israel of his own free will (Document No. 4). This version, which contained some internal contradictions, was not accepted by the Argentinian authorities, although it included an apology for any possible breach of Argentinian law. In the light of Argentina’s persistence, the Foreign Ministry considered several proposals for putting international pressure on the Argentinian government, including the idea of using information about the presence of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele in Argentina as proof that it would not have cooperated if Israel had asked to extradite Eichmann (Document No. 7).

The Red Cross passport under the name of “Ricardo Clement” used by Eichmann to enter Argentina in 1950. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

The Security Council condemned Israel and directed it to give ‘appropriate compensation’ to Argentina. The Israel government received a message that the Argentinian government had reached the conclusion that the tension between the two countries should be ended, and relations revert to a normal state. Shabtai Rosenne, the legal adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with Argentinian officials, drafted a joint statement that included Israel’s official apology and an announcement that the crisis was over.

Text of the joint announcement, 3 August 1960, in File A3071/4

For more details on the Eichmann affair and Israel-Argentina relations, see Chapter 21, “Capture of War Criminal Adolf Eichmann and his Abduction to Israel”, in Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel, Vol. 14, 1960, Israel State Archives, 1997 (English companion volume). See also documents in English, German and Spanish in Vol. 14, main volume.

ב.4 | World reaction to Eichmann's capture and the proposed trial in Israel: How the Foreign Ministry dealt with this issue

After Ben-Gurion’s announcement of Eichmann’s capture, the press was full of descriptions of the emotional public reaction in Israel. The announcement also had considerable impact throughout the world, and received wide coverage in the media. Many letters were received by the Prime Minister’s Office from people in Israel and abroad. A survey of letters reaching the Office about the Eichmann affair during June – August 1960 reflects widespread support for Israel’s position, but also concern over a possible conflict between Argentina and Israel. Among them were also writers who addressed the issue of how to deal with Eichmann, and whether to punish him in Israel, transfer him for trial in another location, or have him judged by an international court (Document No. 10).

Letter to the Israeli minister in Australia from a member of the Queensland parliament on the capture of Eichmann. ISA, File MFA 3352/3

A slightly different picture arose from the reports by Israel’s representatives abroad on the reactions in their countries of service. Eichmann’s abduction from a sovereign country and his transfer to Israel raised questions about the legality of the process and Israel’s right to try Eichmann on its soil. These issues obliged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare a comprehensive information campaign. Yohanan Cohen, the deputy director of the Information Division, wrote a memorandum on Israel’s policy on this issue, including an analysis of world press reaction. He presented the problematic issues and proposed a method of dealing with them (Document No. 15).

In Poland, where the majority of the Nazi death camps had been situated, there was particular sensitivity towards the trial of Eichmann. The Israeli legation in Warsaw reported that the Polish government had given instructions not to cooperate with the prosecution and was apprehensive about how the Poles would be presented at the trial. (Document No. 13). With the opening of the trial the Polish representatives were indeed very angry about how their country was portrayed in the Israeli press and the accusation that they had collaborated with the Nazis in the murder of Jews. The reports, however, spoke of a different attitude among the Polish public. The prosecution was provided with a great deal of documentation from Poland by private individuals. Rehavam Amir, the Israel minister in Warsaw, even reported that Polish public opinion mostly supported Israel’s actions. This was expressed in letters, articles in the press and meetings of Israeli representatives with officials from the Polish Foreign Ministry, who recognized Israel’s right to put Eichmann on trial (Document No. 11).


Part of a letter from the police investigators to the Foreign Ministry, ISA, File MFA3352/3

For further information about the Eichmann trial and its influence on Israeli-Polish relations, see “Documents on Israeli-Polish Relations 1945-1967” (in Hebrew and Polish), Israel State Archives, Head Office of the State Archives in Poland, 2009. The Polish-language volume (Stosunki polsko-izraelskie [1945-1967] Wybor dokumentow) was published in Warsaw by the Head Office of the State Archives.

There was a reserved attitude towards the trial, orchestrated by the U.S.S.R., in all the Soviet Bloc countries. The director of the East European Division in the Foreign Ministry reported to Commander Avraham Selinger that the Soviet Bloc countries were presenting major obstacles to Israeli attempts to get help from their institutions in preparing the indictment (Document No. 12). Some reports by Israeli representatives in Eastern Europe said that Israel was being accused of deliberately refraining from presenting the full picture of the Holocaust in the trial. It was claimed that Israel’s leaders were interested in cementing relations with West Germany, and were therefore being considerate of Germany’s concerns about the implications of the Eichmann trial for German firms and individuals. For example, Aviezer Chelouche, Israel’s minister in Belgrade, reported to the Division on his talks with ambassadors of East European countries in Belgrade. The Soviet ambassador made a bitter attack on Israel about the conduct of the trial, and claimed that Israel was deliberately ignoring people with a Nazi past in West Germany (Document No. 20).

First reactions in the United States to the Eichmann affair were outlined by Michael Arnon, counsellor for press and information at the Israeli embassy in Washington. He described the reservations of American public opinion and the recommendations of embassy personnel to avoid at all costs a ‘show trial’ like those conducted by the Communist regimes, and even to consider not imposing the death sentence on Eichmann (Document No. 14).

ב.5 | Reaction in Germany to Eichmann's capture and the trial

Konrad Adenauer, former chancellor of W. Germany, with ex-P.M. Ben-Gurion and his wife at their home in Sde Boker, 1966. Photograph: Fritz Cohen, GPO

Eichmann’s capture, his transfer to Israel, the preparations for the trial, the trial itself and the sentence naturally received wide coverage in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and led to a strong reaction from the German public, which found itself confronted with the nation’s past. Israel had not yet established diplomatic relations with West Germany, and the Israel mission in Cologne which dealt with carrying out the reparations agreement and trade relations, headed by (Felix) Eliezer Shinnar, served as an unofficial representation. It constantly reported on public opinion to the Foreign Ministry and the prime minister, who were concerned with the effect of the trial on relations with Germany. Most of the reports show that West German officials at the highest levels were following the Eichmann affair. They also reveal that official circles were gratified at the very fact of putting Eichmann on trial. At the same time, there were many fears that the trial would ignite a wave of hatred towards Germany. The Germans hoped  that the government of Israel would not lend itself to exploiting the trial in this manner, “after the Prime Minister has expressed his opinion on many occasions regarding the ‘New Germany’, and after the Bonn government has proved its desire to compensate the Jewish People, as much as it is possible, for its material losses” (Document No. 24).

Reports on meetings with German Foreign Ministry officials repeatedly reveal the concern that East Germany and the Soviet bloc would exploit the trial in order to incite against West Germany and present it as the heir to Nazi Germany (Documents No. 26, 29). East Germany even sent a lawyer, Dr. Friedrich Kaul, to Israel, who conducted propaganda along these lines during the trial, as reported by the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Chaim Yahil (Document No. 32). Yahil noted that most of this propaganda relied on the fact that Hans Globke, who had helped to draft the Nuremberg Laws, was serving at the time as the bureau chief and closest adviser of Konrad Adenauer, chancellor of West Germany. The chancellor himself, on several occasions, dealt with this and other issues related to the Eichmann trial. He held press conferences in which he presented his position on Germany’s past, the German nation’s suffering and Israeli-German relations in the light of the trial, and even defended Globke (Documents No. 28, 30).

Photomontage attacking Globke, “the servant of two masters” – Hitler and Adenauer- in a booklet about the trial issued by opponents of Israel’s rapprochement with Germany, 1962. Israel State Archives, File K592/2


ב.6 | Collecting the evidence and preparing for the trial

Preparations for the trial lasted for about a year. The police aspect was dealt with by the staff of Bureau 06, whose investigators worked for approximately nine months, collecting evidence against Eichmann around the world. Chaim Yahil, the director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instructed the Israeli delegations in the relevant countries to request the government to assist the investigation (Document No. 37).

One of the interesting issues arising during the collection of evidence related to the ‘Sassen Document’, an interview conducted by Willem Sassen, a Dutch journalist with a Nazi past, with Eichmann in Argentina in 1956 (see several pages of the document). In December 1960 ‘Life’ magazine published excerpts from the interview, and it was revealed that there was more damaging material there than in Eichmann’s statements in his interrogation. A copy of the full interview reached the Israel Police from Poland and Bureau 06 wanted to use evidence from it, but the attorney-general refused because he thought that it was wrong to use material prepared by Nazis. In a letter to the Inspector-General of the Israel Police, Commander Selinger tried to appeal the decision and allow the  investigators to use the document after all (Document No. 41). During the trial the prosecution received permission to use part of it – the section that was handwritten and contained comments in Eichmann’s own handwriting.

The preparations also included choosing the witnesses. Police and prosecution personnel met with representatives of Yad Va’Shem, the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Authority, and discussed issues to be raised with the witnesses during the trial (Document No. 40).

Abba Kovner, poet and Vilna Ghetto fighter, giving evidence at the trial. ISA, File TS 10000/7

Some people also proposed themselves as witnesses, for example, Judge Michael Musmanno, of the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania. Musmanno, who had served on the bench at some of the Nuremberg trials, offered to testify about the actions taken by Eichmann and some of his subordinates, based on the evidence he had heard at Nuremberg  (Document No. 42, in English). His offer was willingly accepted, and he did testify at the trial.

On the conclusion of Bureau 06’s work, its commander, Avraham Selinger, wrote a detailed report and sent it to Inspector-General Nahmias (Document No. 45).

The administrative preparations included discussions on preparing the venue for the trial, the Beit Ha’Am building in the centre of Jerusalem, and inviting representatives of foreign countries to serve as observers. In a letter to Foreign Minister Golda Meir, Gideon Hausner, the attorney-general and the special prosecutor in the trial, proposed inviting representatives of the Four Powers that conducted the Nuremberg trials, in order to emphasize that “we are continuing the Nuremberg enterprise in Israel”  (Document No. 43).

Preparing the glass booth in which Eichmann sat during the trial. 16/2/1961. Israel State Archives, courtesy of Eli Cohen


ב.7 | The appointment of defence counsel

Dr. Robert Servatius at the trial, June 1961. Photograph: GPO

The appointment of a lawyer to undertake Eichmann’s defence was a sensitive issue, which preoccupied the legal authorities and the government from the beginning. The government found itself deeply involved in this issue (see below). After many misgivings and deliberations, it approved allowing a German lawyer to represent Eichmann on condition that he did not have a Nazi past, and even passed a special law to enable a foreign lawyer to represent a defendant in an Israeli court under special circumstances.

On 27 June 1960 Adv. Dr. Robert Servatius of Cologne, West Germany, presented a request to the minister of justice, Pinhas Rosen, to allow him to serve as Eichmann’s defence counsel, in accordance with the Eichmann family’s request, after having served in the past as a defence counsel at the Nuremberg trials (Document No. 49, in German, and Rosen’s reply in English). After receiving the Cologne mission’s report with an evaluation of Servatius’s political opinions and abilities as a lawyer, Gideon Hausner sent the prime minister a written statement from Servatius. The lawyer declared that he had never been a member of the Nazi party and attached confirmation to that effect from the president of the Bar Association in Cologne (Document No. 51, in Hebrew, with an appendix in German). In these discussions, as in other issues related to the trial, the authorities were assisted by information from Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi-hunter who lived in Vienna and was involved in collecting information on Nazi criminals around the world. Assistant Commander Ephraim Hofstadter, the deputy commander of Bureau 06, reported on a meeting he had with him (Document No. 53). Wiesenthal also wrote to Hofstadter and gave him more information on Eichmann’s defence, and to the attempts of Adolf Eichmann’s brother, Robert, to obtain testimony that played down his brother’s guilt and made serious accusations against Hans Globke (Document No. 55, in German).

The information Wiesenthal provided, and reports on the links between the Eichmann family and Adv. Servatius and neo-Nazi elements posed a serious dilemma for the trial authorities. On the one hand, they were determined to conduct a fair trial according to all legal procedures; on the other hand, there was great suspicion of Servatius, and a fear of provocations that would disrupt the trial. In a lengthy meeting the government discussed the proposal presented by Rosen to allow Servatius to meet privately with his client without the presence of a policeman who listened to their conversations by means of loudspeakers installed in the room, which contradicted common practice in lawyer-client relations. Despite the ministers’ wish to ensure a fair trial, at the conclusion of the meeting the government accepted the opinion of Isser Harel, head of the Mossad, that it was impossible to allow this request, for fear that the lawyer would pass on to Eichmann messages from neo-Nazi organizations, which would impede the possibility of uncovering additional Nazi criminals from their conversations, or that he would instruct him to commit suicide (Document No. 65). Servatius continued in his attempts to reverse this decision. In a meeting with Hausner reported by a police officer to the inspector-general, he asked to be allowed to meet with Eichmann “not as they say, eye to eye, but ear to ear”, but his request was again denied (Document No. 60). However, several days later, the orders were changed, and earphones were installed that enabled Eichmann and his lawyer to converse “ear to ear”, as requested by Servatius (Document No. 61) .

We have a record of three conversations Servatius had with Eichmann, in which they discussed subjects such as the defence strategy at the trial, Eichmann’s visits to Auschwitz and his viewing of the gas chambers, Eichmann’s world view at the present compared with that he held when he was a Nazi officer, his opinion of Hitler, the admiration Eichmann expressed for his captors and their work, etc. (Document No. 57).

Eichmann and Adv. Servatius during the trial. ISA, TS 3007/23, courtesy of Benny Eden

Another issue the government dealt with was Servatius’ request that the State of Israel bear the costs of the defence (Document No. 58 in German). The mission in Cologne reported that the West German government also preferred that the Israel government pay the costs, in order to avoid the need to pay Servatius itself and thus find itself in a politically embarrassing situation. The government decided that Israel would pay the defence costs  amounting to the sum of 20,000 dollars (Document No. 63).

ב.8 | The Ben-Gurion government and the Eichmann Affair

The Eichmann trial was not ‘just another trial’, but rather an event of undoubted national and educational importance, in which Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and the government of Israel were extremely interested and involved. Their approach was based on several principles: holding the trial at all costs; making its great educational value clear; achieving the greatest political benefit possible while neutralizing the inherent dangers, especially to Israeli-West German relations; making an effort to conduct as far as possible a fair trial, while adhering as much as possible to the principle of separation of powers. The attempt to uphold all these principles at the same time was often problematic, and led to contradictions in the government’s behaviour.

Ben-Gurion set out his guiding principles several days after his first announcement of Eichmann’s capture. At the government meeting on 29 May 1960 the prime minister declared: “The main point is not the punishment, because I do not see any appropriate punishment for these deeds; so what if they hang a man who murdered millions of children, women and old people. I find the trial itself important … It should not be a trial of him alone, but a trial that will encompass the entire story of the Holocaust … It is not about Eichmann alone, we must reveal in the trial all that was done to the Jews by the Nazis; all this must be fully described during the trial. This is necessary for us; there is a new generation that has heard something about it, but does not live it. … It is necessary not only for us, but for the whole world. The world wants to forget it, and is tired of it all“. He added: “The trial must be conducted according to all accepted procedures”, and other ministers also repeated this (Document No. 62).

P.M. David Ben-Gurion in his office in Jerusalem, with Moshe “Moish” Pearlman, director of the Information Service, 1953. Photograph: David Eldan, PMO

In their desire to ensure a suitable atmosphere, the prime minister and other leading figures in Israel were deeply involved in the writing of a book by Moshe Pearlman, the former IDF spokesman and a Mossad agent, entitled “The Capture of Adolf Eichmann”, which was published before the trial began. Although the book was presented as the author’s own work and was published by the Histadrut publishing house, “Am Oved”, in fact, it presented the official version of Eichmann’s capture and omitted the government’s involvement, as well as that of the intelligence services. Ben-Gurion met with Pearlman, read the manuscript and made corrections, and so did Isser Harel, and other leading figures.

In a letter from Teddy Kollek, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, to Isser Harel, he set out Ben-Gurion’s involvement in the preparation of the book, and added: “The book should appear and be distributed before the trial, so that it will help to shape public opinion before the event” (Document No. 60). Pearlman’s reaction to the censorship of his work can be seen in Document No. 60 (English).

The minister of foreign affairs, Golda Meir, also contributed to the efforts to emphasize the political aspects of the trial. In a report on a meeting with Attorney-General Hausner, Commander Selinger tells of Hausner’s meeting with the minister of justice and Meir, in which she wanted to discuss points that could serve Israel’s foreign policy, such as emphasizing Nazi racist ideology for Israel’s information campaigns in Africa, minimizing the Allies’ role, giving a prominent place to Eichmann’s ties with the mufti of Jerusalem, etc. (Document No. 61).

Policy makers, together with the attorney-general, also decided to invite the historian Salo Baron from New York to present historical evidence which would describe European Jewry before and after the Holocaust and reveal the dimensions of the catastrophe (see Rosen’s letter to Binyamin Eliav, the consul-general in New York, Document No. 62).

A central issue in the political aspect of the Eichmann trial was its effect on Israel’s relations with West Germany. The two countries were becoming closer, a process initiated by Ben-Gurion, who viewed relations with Germany and economic and defence assistance from it as vital to the state’s existence. He feared, as did German policy makers, that the trial would ignite a wave of hatred of Germany among the Israeli public, which would stand in the way of the process, and even be an obstacle to receiving economic aid from Germany. Therefore the prime minister tried to focus the accusations in the trial on Nazi Germany, and not on the entire German nation or the Germany of 1961. As noted, Chancellor Adenauer several times emphasized Ben-Gurion’s statements on the ‘new Germany’, and Teddy Kollek, in a letter to Shinnar at the Israel mission in Cologne, reviewed the discussions about the sensitivity of the Germans to the repercussions of the trial. Kollek referred to the possibility that the government would publish a statement emphasizing the difference between Adenauer’s Germany and that represented by Eichmann (Document No. 70). A further indication of Ben-Gurion’s intentions can be found in his comments to Hausner, who served as the chief prosecutor, on the draft of the opening address that Hausner had sent him. Ben-Gurion demanded changes in the speech, and the use of the term ‘Nazi Germany’ rather than ‘Germany’ alone, with the intention of clearly differentiating between them. In addition, he suggested omitting the claim that Nazism was historically inevitable (Document No. 71).

At the same time, Ben-Gurion and his government tried to uphold the ‘sub judice’ principle, and did their best to follow the principle of separation of powers. In reply to a letter from the author Pearl S. Buck (not included here), Ben-Gurion wrote: “In any case, the trial is continuing, and we believe that it is wrong for the government to interfere in it. As you know, it is expected that an appeal will be made to the Supreme Court, and the principle of separation of powers is shared by all democratic governments”. Regarding ‘sub judice’, he wrote in another letter: “For now, I will not write anything about Eichmann’s sentence, because his trial has not yet been finally concluded”.

The prosecutor Gideopn Hausner with one of the witnesses, Moshe Biesky, later a Supreme Court Judge, 1 May 1961. ISA, File TS 10000/7

The government thus made every effort to conduct a fair trial. In his letter to Gideon Hausner, several days after the trial opened, Teddy Kollek praised him for his opening address, and was at pains to mention that the conduct of the trial was leaving no room for accusations of a ‘show trial’ (Document No.72). As part of its efforts, the government held several discussions about the defence in the Eichmann trial. It agreed, as noted above, to allow a German lawyer to come to Israel,  passed a law to allow a foreign lawyer to defend a person accused in an Israeli court, and even decided that the State would bear the defence costs (Document No. 63). After a long and searching debate decided by a majority of only one vote (6:5), the government also agreed to allow two Germans with a Nazi past to come and testify for the defence, and granted them immunity from prosecution in Israel (Document No. 73). In the end, the witnesses did not come to Israel, and all the defence testimony was obtained abroad, in 16 courts in 3 countries, and reached Jerusalem within several weeks of being recorded. However, the government did not at first allow Adv. Servatius to meet privately with his client, contrary to the laws of privilege on lawyer-client relations (see above).

The last issue related to the trial that the government was required to deal with was the question whether to recommend the president of Israel to accept Eichmann’s request for a pardon, presented to him after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal. During the discussion, Minister of Finance Levi Eshkol and Minister of Welfare Yosef Burg expressed their objections to carrying out the death sentence at that point, but in the end, the government rejected a proposal by the finance minister to reduce the death sentence to life imprisonment, and finally decided unanimously “not to recommend the President of the State to grant Adolf Eichmann a pardon” (Document No. 75).

ב.9 | Press coverage and the media

View of the audience during the Echmann trial, ISA, File TS 10000/3

The media played a very significant part in bringing the Eichmann trial to the public in Israel, and in shaping the consciousness of the generation that grew up after it. It is difficult to understand the history of Israel without considering the impact that the trial created in the media, and it did an enormous service to Israel and the Jewish people. The great importance of the press and radio in an era not yet dominated by television is plainly evident.

At the beginning the government of Israel did not grasp the potential inherent in filming the entire trial, and permission was granted to only one company – the American ‘Capital Cities’ company – to film in the courtroom. David Landor, head of the Government Press Office, wanted only one film crew in the courtroom, in order to preserve the court’s security and dignity (Document No. 76) and to avoid creating the impression of a “show trial”. Some of the Israeli media protested, among them the heads of the Geva Film company who protested to Teddy Kollek against the exclusive rights granted to ‘Capital Cities’ and emphasized the importance of the filming for the local industry (Document 77). At the same time, the Government Press Office was preparing to deal with hundreds of journalists from around the world, who planned to come to Israel to cover the trial. In the minutes of a meeting of the “Council for Distribution of Tickets to the Eichmann Trial”, the large share of tickets given to journalists can clearly be seen (Document 79). It was decided that 474 places in the courtroom would be reserved for them. David Landor raised the need to give special attention to the German journalists and to enable them to take advantage of their trip to tour the country (Document 78).

Journalist Yosef “Tommy” Lapid covering the trial for the daily Ma’ariv, in the press room. Lapid survived the war in Budapest with the help of Raoul Wallenberg and later became a politician and minister of justice. Photograph: GPO

Leo Hurwitz, the filmmaker hired by Capitial Cities to direct the filming, and Michael Goldman, a police interrogator and Auschwitz surivivor, watching a transmission of the trial in Beit Ha’am. Photograph: GPO.

However, the focus of the journalistic coverage of the trial in Israel was the radio broadcasts of “Kol Yisrael”, the public broadcasting station, and we have chosen to describe them by an article on that topic. See: Amit Pinchevski, Tamar Liebes and Ora Herman,Eichmann on the Air: Radio and the Making of a Historic Trial

ב.10 | Implications of the trial: Possible reopening of the Kasztner Trial and bringing other Nazi criminals to justice

During World War II Rudolf (Israel) Kasztner, was a member of the Jewish Aid and Rescue Committee in Budapest, which tried to save the Jews of Hungary. In 1953 Israel’s Attorney General filed a libel suit against Malkiel Gruenwald, a Holocaust survivor, for publishing claims that Kasztner, now a senior official in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, had collaborated with the Nazis in deporting the Jews, sending them to extermination camps and stealing their property. During the trial, which opened in January 1954, many previously unknown details came to light and Kasztner came under heavy suspicion. The court ruled that “Kasztner had sold his soul to the devil” and that some of Gruenwald’s claims were true. In January 1957 the Attorney General appealed to the Supreme Court, but Kasztner was assassinated in March 1957, before the proceedings were completed. In January 1958 the Supreme Court overturned the verdict, exonerating Kasztner of most of the charges against him.

During the trial Adolf Eichmann’s name came up repeatedly. Adv. Shmuel Tamir, who had defended Gruenwald, saw Eichmann’s presence in Israel as an opportunity to obtain information from him about his connections with Kasztner and to use it to demand a retrial for his client. Tamir conducted an exchange of correspondence on the matter with Gideon Hausner. According to Hausner in his book “Justice in Jerusalem”, the demands for a retrial came from those who “did not accept the ruling by the Supreme Court, which exonerated Kasztner, and continued to blame him”. At first, Hausner rejected Tamir’s request; however, after a further request, in which Tamir hinted that Hausner might be trying to prevent him at all costs from hearing Eichmann’s version, Hausner agreed to allow him to meet with Eichmann after the conclusion of the trial (Document No. 80).
The documents from Kasztner ‘s appeal to the Supreme Court are also held in the Israel State Archives.

Yoel Brand, a member of the Budapest committee sent to Istanbul to forward to the Allies Eichmann’s proposal to release a million Jews in return for goods, testifying at the trial. Photograph: GPO

Video clip of Brand’s evidence at the Eichmann trial

Those who spent many years trying to track down Nazi war criminals viewed Eichmann’s transfer to Israel as a one-time opportunity to extract information which would help to find the Nazis and bring them to justice. Tuvia Friedman, the head of the Institute for Documentation in Haifa, wrote several letters on this matter to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion. In one of them, also signed by Knesset members and members of the underground resistance in the ghettoes, he requests that the Israel Police be ordered to initiate investigations against Nazi criminals, based on the information collected for the trial (Document No. 81).In Ben-Gurion’s reply he disagrees with Friedman’s request in the name of the millions of Holocaust victims, and emphasizes that no-one has the right to speak for them. In another letter, Friedman declares that information given him by Eichmann in writing brought about the arrest of a Nazi criminal in Germany, and requests that he be allowed to continue to interrogate Eichmann, in order to bring more Nazi criminals to justice (Document No. 82).

ב.11 | Issues that arose during the trial

This publication does not deal with the legal aspects of the Eichmann trial; however, we have chosen several documents that contain reports and correspondence related to issues that arose during the trial.

On the eve of the trial, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Chaim Yahil dispatched a circular telegram to Israeli representations around the world, in which he reviewed the issues expected to arise there (Document No. 84). The opening address by the prosecutor, Gideon Hausner aroused great interest and won praise from everyone. Hausner spent a great deal of time preparing it. Due to its sensitive nature, he consulted with the prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of justice (Document No. 85). However the famous phrase about the “six million accusers” does not appear on the typewritten version of the speech, and was added by Hausner at the last minute.

Attorney-General Gideon Hausner and the defence lawyer, Adv. Servatius. ISA, File 3007/203, courtesy of Benny Eden.

When I stand before you here, Judges of Israel, to lead the Prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I am not standing alone. With me are six million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet and point an accusing finger towards him who sits in the glass booth and cry: “I accuse.” For their ashes are piled up on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka, and are strewn in the forests of Poland. Their graves are scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voice is not heard. Therefore I will be their spokesman and in their name I will unfold the awesome indictment.”

As the trial proceedings began, a disagreement developed between Hausner and the president of the court, Judge Landau, based on Hausner’s desire to expand the testimony to include the uprisings in the ghettoes; testimony that in Judge Landau’s opinion was irrelevant to the indictment. Shabtai Rosenne, the legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, reviewed this issue in a telegram to the heads of missions, and presented Hausner’s position that everything that had occurred in the ghettoes, including the uprisings, was related to the decision on the Final Solution taken at the Wannsee Conference (Document No. 86).

The Jerusalem district court judges at the Eichmann trial: (R. to L) Yitzhak Raveh, President of the Court Moshe Landau, Binyamin Halevy.


In the Israel of the 1960s, political disputes also found their way into the periphery of the Eichmann trial. In an exchange of letters with Izik Ramba, the editor of “Herut”, the newspaper of the right-wing Herut movement, Hausner rejected claims and hints by Ramba in an article in the newspaper, that witnesses were also chosen according to political considerations of membership in the labour movement. For his part, Ramba replied that that was not what he had intended in his article. He wanted to indicate distortions in the testimony of Zvia Lubetkin and Abba Kovner, who had minimized the part played by ghetto fighters who belonged to the right-wing Betar movement (Document No. 88).

ב.12 | Conviction and verdict: Public reaction to the death sentence and the execution of Eichmann

The debate over the imposition of the death sentence on Eichmann raged from the day his capture was announced until the day he was executed. In Israel there was almost complete agreement on the necessity for it, as can be seen from reactions in the press on the eve of the execution and the day after. Hanging Eichmann was perceived not only as the personification of human justice, but also as additional proof of the “victory” of Israel over the fate of Diaspora Jewry;  only in its sovereign state was the Jewish people given the possibility of capturing Eichmann, putting him on trial in front of Israeli judges in full accordance with legal rules, and executing him after all legal procedures had been carried out.

From the very beginning, many letters from Israel and around the world had streamed into the president’s bureau, the Prime Minister’s Office and the office of Judge Landau, expressing the writers’ opinions for and against Eichmann’s execution. We have presented here only a small selection of these letters. Most of the letters written in Israel supported Eichmann’s death sentence; many even offered to serve as his hangman (Document No. 92). However, other opinions were also heard in Israel. Hannah Bernheim-Rosenzweig, of the Israeli branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, argued that, in any case, there was no sentence that was appropriate for the severity of Eichmann’s deeds, and expressed a fear that his execution would bring no benefit to the Jewish people, but would only increase antisemitism (Document No. 94).

Many of the letters that arrived from abroad, especially from the United States, expressed a wish or hope that the state of Israel would avoid executing Eichmann. For example, Prof. Theo C. Panos, of the Medical Center at the University of Arkansas, wrote to President Ben-Zvi that if Israel spares Eichmann, the trial would provide an opportunity for the Jewish people to be a model and inspiration to the whole world, by rejecting the death penalty,(Document No. 100, in English). A similar opinion was expressed by  Prof. Isidore Farber of the University of Iowa (Document No. 102, in English). Michael Arnon, of the Israel embassy in Washington, wrote to Shabtai Rosenne that he believed that opposition to the death sentence on Eichmann embraced very wide circles in American Jewry (Document No. 95). An especially impressive letter was sent to Ben-Gurion by the Jewish-Swedish poet of German origin, Nelly Sachs, who five years later, shared the Nobel Prize for Literature with Israeli author S.Y. Agnon. She wrote to the prime minister that since she views herself as a victim of Nazism, she implores him to avoid executing Eichmann, in order to emphasize the good in the world against evil . Sachs even attached to the letter a poem praising the prime minister (Document No. 100, in German, courtesy of the Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin). However, other opinions were also expressed in letters from abroad, such as that of I. Kemp, of Johannesburg, who wrote to President Ben-Zvi that he objects to commuting Adolf Eichmann’s sentence, because such a step would project weakness and make a mockery of the whole trial (Document No. 101, in English).

There were people in Israel who not only opposed the death sentence for Eichmann, but also acted on their feelings. A group of intellectuals led by Martin Buber and (Shmuel) Hugo Bergman was especially prominent. Buber expressed his opinion on several occasions during the trial, and even met with the prime minister. He argued that Eichmann’s crimes were so great and terrible that there was no way to punish him, and since the death sentence was inherently wrong, it should be avoided. One day after Eichmann’s appeal had been turned down, the group sent a letter to President Ben-Zvi, in which they gave their reasons for requesting that he annul the death sentence pronounced on Eichmann, for the good of the country and its moral reputation, and in order to prevent giving antisemites an opportunity to claim that a blood ransom had now been paid for Nazi crimes (Document No. 105). The position of Buber and his friends aroused many sharp reactions, and some of them are presented here (Document No. 99).

Even after the end of the trial and after Eichmann’s execution, the correspondence on the issue of the sentence continued. Martha Gellhorn, a journalist and the former wife of Ernest Hemingway, wrote to Teddy Kollek that the death sentence and the cremation of Eichmann’s body were the right thing to do, because if left alive he would have become a symbol, and if he had been buried, his grave might become a focus for pilgrimage by those who identified with his ideas. For the same reasons, she objected to the publication of the memoirs that Eichmann wrote while incarcerated in Israel.

In his reply, Kollek agreed with her opinion that the memoirs should not be published, but assumed that one day they would be made available for historical research (Document No. 107, in English).


ב.13 | Epilogue

The Eichmann affair had a great effect not only on the public in Israel, but also on attitudes towards the Holocaust and its perpetrators around the world, as reflected in a survey presented to Foreign Minister Meir on the number of proceedings against Nazi criminals during the period before, during and after the trial. The report shows that in the year after Eichmann’s capture there was a dramatic increase in the number of arrests of Nazi criminals in Germany and in other countries. In addition, it indicates a sharp rise in the number of trials, carrying out of death sentences and extradition procedures of Nazi criminals, and even in the elimination of Nazi elements in West Germany (Document No. 109).

We have already mentioned that after Eichmann’s execution, the question arose of what to do with the manuscripts he wrote while in prison. In December 1962 Prime Minister Ben-Gurion wrote to the minister of police, Bechor Shalom Shitreet, and informed him of his decision to transfer the manuscripts to the Israel State Archives, forbidding anyone from reading them for the next five years (Document No. 110). Among the manuscripts written by Eichmann were two items: the first is a personal memoir (“Meine Memoiren”) that he wrote in the first months after his arrest and completed in June 1960, in the hope of selling them to a publisher to assist in the financing of his defence (to see several pages – both handwritten and typed). The second is a kind of autobiographical report called “Goetzen”, which he composed while waiting for the sentence and completed in September 1961. This contains his memoirs and his reactions to the information presented at the trial regarding his part in the Holocaust. (File A342/1). (To see part of the manuscript). Both manuscripts are held at the Israel State Archives.

A page from Eichmann’s work “Goetzen”, written in prison and held in the Israel State Archives. File A 342/1.

The Israel State Archives also holds a large collection of additional material related to the Eichmann affair, including files of the interrogation and collection of evidence conducted by Bureau 06, court files from both judicial levels and Ministry of Foreign Affairs files on the process of collecting testimony and exhibits and on world reactions to the affair at its various stages. Most of the material is available to the public .